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Halloween : Celtic Rites on Christian Times

Halloween's ancient origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain . The Celts celebrate their new year on November 1, a day that marks the harvest and the beginning of the cold, dark winter months. It has been considered for centuries as one of the most magical nights of the year. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest.

No one blended profane practices with their own beliefs more than the Roman Church, which typically baptized paganism in order to draw heathen converts into the fold. In 1000 C.E. this church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day and November 1 All Saints Day in honor of the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. When Christianity spread through Europe the November 1 holiday was merged with All Saints’ Day, also called All Hallows’ Day. The evening before was referred to as All Hallows’ Evening or the contraction we know as Hallowe’en. Together, the three celebrations – the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’– were called Hallowmass.

In the Celtic calendar, it was one of the most important days of the year, representing a mid point in the year, Samhain, or "summer's end". Occuring opposite the great Spring Festival of May Day, or Beltain, this day represented the turning point of the year, the eve of the new year which begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year. Celts believe that on the night before the new year, the worlds of the living and the dead came together, and on the night of October 31, the souls of the dead returned to earth

And while celebrated by the Celts, the origin of this day has connections to other cultures as well, such as Egypt, and in Mexico as Dia de la Muerte. Many cultures have ceremonies to honor their dead. In so doing, they complete a cycle of birth and death, and keep in line with a harmony and order of the universe, at time when we enter into the cycle of darkness for the upcoming year..

Halloween was also the night when doors opened to Fairyland, when it was a tradition for mortals to be able to visit the land of the fairies and return unharmed.

The Celts wore costumes, usually animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. At the end of the night of revelry, fire was taken to each home and hearthfires were ceremoniously relit and the sacred bonfire was extenguished.

Crops and the bones of animals which had been culled were burnt in the fires as offerings. Our modern word, bonfire, comes from the words bone and fire meaning "fire of bones" and refers to this practice. Personal and symbolic items were also burned as offerings for relief from sickness or bad fortune.

The Celtic peoples who celebrated Samhain believed that the time between the beginning and end of the years was when spirits could travel freely between this world and the spirit world. Some spirits were good and they would help people divine the future. Others were evil spirits and would bring misfortune on whomever they encountered.

The sacred fires were believed to have the power to scare away these evil spirits and people stayed close by them often wearing costumes of animal heads and skins as disguises to frighten those spirits and ensure their safety.

As the great fire died it was considered good luck to take an ember and carry it home to relight their hearth fire. They often carried these embers home in holders made from turnips or gourds in which they carved faces in the hope that the faces would scare away any evil spirits that may be lurking along their path.

On the following day, the ashes from these sacred fires would be spread over the fields as protection against spirits who would cause the next season's crops to fail.
By the 800's, Christianity had spread to Celtic lands. The church incorporated Christian meanings into the ancient rites. November 1 was designated All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs.

As the Church began to take hold in Europe the ancient Pagan rituals were co-opted into festivals of the Church. While the Church could not support a general feast for all the dead, it created a festival for the blessed dead, all those hallowed so, All Hallow's, was transformed into All Saints and All Souls day.

So instead of praying to their heathen gods, they would now pray to, and remember the deaths of saints. For this reason the church decided to call November 1 the "Day of All Saints," and the mass to be celebrated on that day "Alhallowmass." In consequence of this, the evening prior to this day was named, "All Hallowed Evening" which subsequently was abbreviated as "Halloween." In spite of this effort to make October 31 a "holy evening," all the old customs continued to be practiced, and made this evening anything BUT a holy evening! Any time we compromise the truth it corrupts the truth. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are to pray to dead saints. In fact, the Bible forbids this practice!

The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Later, the church designated November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.

Other examples of pagan feasts adapted for Christian usage are the Winter Solstice and the celebration of Beltane.As it was the policy of the early Christian Church to graft a Christian festival onto a pagan celebration in an attempt to discourage a return to pagan ways, the Festival of Hallow Tide, or All Hallows, replaced the pagan festival of Samhuinn.

The Christian Feasts of All Saints Day and All Souls Day honour the memories of the Christian saints and all dead Christians worldwide.

As you light your fires this year, keep in mind the true magical connections to the other side of life, and a time to remember those who have passed before us. A time to send our love and gratitude to them to light their way back home.

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